Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


May 13, 2002

Hary's Israeli society class becomes hot topic(al)

By Michael Terrazas


Before this spring, Benjamin Hary had not taught a course in contemporary Israeli society on Emory’s campus. He picked a heckuva time to start.

Beginning early this year with a string of Palestinian suicide bombings, followed by armed incursions into the occupied territories by the Israeli Defense Force, contemporary Israeli society has been on the front page of world newspapers for the whole semester, and suddenly Hary (whose scholarly expertise is in Near Eastern language and dialect) was manning the lectern for perhaps the most topical class on campus.

But at least, apart from the occasional exchange of rhetorical artillery, teaching this class is less dangerous than it would be had it taken place where Hary usually teaches contemporary Israeli politics—in Israel, where the associate professor of Middle Eastern studies directs an in-depth, six-week summer immersion in the culture.

“That, in some ways, is the beauty of the class, that it’s so much connected to real life,” Hary said of this semester’s MES/JS 370, which met for three hours each Tuesday afternoon. “You have to be connected to what’s going on.”

And many of the students were connected, often personally, to both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hary said in-class debates always remained intellectual and civil, but from just one visit, it was clear many of the students felt quite passionately about what’s going in the Middle East.

“What I find good is that I think I’ve managed to create a safe environment, where every opinion—as long as it is not coupled with hatred or something like that—is welcomed,” Hary said. “So if we have someone who really feels strongly that the Israeli government action is correct and good and should continue, then they have a place. If the other side feels the Israeli government is not doing the right thing, they have a place to say that, as well.”

To help students put the course in its proper context, Hary began by handing out a political timeline of the land on which rests the modern state of Israel, from biblical times until the February 2001 election of Ariel Sharon as prime minister. Among the required reading were Jerusalem Report (a semimonthly news magazine) and the online English version of HaAretz Daily. Needless to say, students also were expected to follow mainstream media for the latest on the violence that has racked the region in recent months.

But the course was about more than just the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Hary also examined the role of women in Israeli society; the ideological divisions among Jews themselves; political structures, immigration and many of the kinds of issues pertinent to any society, Israeli or otherwise.

“Everything fits together,” said Jordan Rosenblum, a graduate student in Jewish studies and Hary’s teaching assistant for the class. “There are [historical] issues the students learned at the beginning of the semester that are still being argued about today, so they need to reinterpret it as new information.”